It’s always awesome when you approach a film with less than zero expectations only to find yourself pleasantly surprised. “Bad Words,” directed by and starring Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development,” is a mix of absurdly crude dialogue and sentimentality hidden in plain sight, a fresh twist on the progressively stale black comedy genre.
The movie follows Guy Trilby (Bateman), a 40-year-old failure and jerk, on his quest to become a national spelling bee champion to the horror of every helicopter parent who dares to stand in his way. Guy is constantly spewing self-righteous vitriol upon every poor soul he encounters. He always goes too far and his smugness comes off as desperately overcompensating.
He befriends a young boy in the competition and the two enact the nihilistic bad boy fantasies of 12-year-olds everywhere, from petty crime to vandalism. The concept seems stupid, but if you enjoy childish rebellion and destroying people’s egos for fun, you’ll probably enjoy the first half of the film.
At first, everything unfolds just as you’d expect. Guy cruises through the competition fueled by the disgust of everyone around him, until something unexpected happens. I will just say the “big twist” will surprise absolutely no one, but still might jerk a few tears here or there from the bigger wimps in the audience like me.
People don’t always say what they mean and I think this double-edged critique on language is one of the deeper themes running through the film: Guy’s bad words are merely a crustacean shell used to hide his gooey innards, and once cracked, the worst verbal abuses come off as cries for help.
I’m surprised the film has received such mixed reviews because I think underneath its obscene facade, it harbors some poignant themes such as subverting authority and the alienation that comes with that. Some may flippantly label this unusual buddy comedy as a typical coming-of-age story, but it avoids canonization through relentless perversion. Love itself, if we judge the film by its final revelation, is a perversion of sorts. In the end, “Bad Words” is a love note written spitefully and in spite of itself.